Councils step up operation to remove invasive seaweed

A tractor, equipped with a fine mesh, collects seaweed next to the beach promenade.
A tractor, equipped with a fine mesh, collects seaweed next to the beach promenade. / SUR
  • The rapid spread of Rugulopterix okamurae is preventing almost 30 boats, crucial for the support of 70 families in Marbella and Estepona, from leaving the port

The Rugulopterix okamurae seaweed, all the way from Asia, which is colonising the fishing grounds of Marbella and Estepona, is seriously affecting not only the fishing sector in both towns, but also the land itself.

In the midst of high tourist season, Marbella town council has been forced to deploy a special early-morning service to remove the seaweed from the town’s beaches by both hand and machine.

This is part of an attempt to ensure that the beaches are in the best possible state for the thousands of swimmers who enjoy the waters in the month of August.

Last month, this scheme removed 750,000 kilos of seaweed, much of which was from the coastline of San Pedro Alcántara, where the situation was particularly bad.

This work, managed by the town council offices responsible for sanitation and beaches, has so far come at at a cost of 35,000 euros, including the money spent on the means used and the transport of the collected seaweed to the Casares waste treatment plant.

The town councillor in charge of sanitation, Diego López, confirmed that the beach which was most affected by this natural phenomenon in the month of July was La Salida, in San Pedro Alcántara, where the vast majority of the seaweed was collected, whereas the situation in Marbella centre and Puerto Banús was not as grave, and therefore the removal process could be done by hand or with tractors equipped with fine mesh.

The removal process involves heavy machinery and 20 operators. Four tractors with trailers and loaders work alongside special lorries which are able to travel across the sand.

The majority of the clean-up process is carried out in the early hours of the morning, from approximately 4am to 11am, as to not coincide with when the beaches are most popular with swimmers. “We shall continue working day after day, with all the resources available to us, in order to ensure that our coastline is in the best conditions possible for it to be enjoyed by all the community,” the Sanitation councillor claimed, underlining the effort of the town council to respond rapidly to the challenge presented by the arrival of this natural species.

Adverse effects

This Asian seaweed, whose official name is Rugulopterix okamurae, is affecting the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bay of Cadiz, and neighboroughing towns such as Estepona.

In fact, the fishing sector in Cadiz and Malaga has been adversely affected, and, this week, head of Marbella’s Fishermen Association, Manuel Haro, stated that, at the moment, the proliferation of seaweed is preventing almost 30 boats, crucial for the support of 70 families in Marbella, from leaving the port. “They are not fishing and we have exhausted all possible options. The seaweed was in the San Pedro area but now it has even reached Cabopino,” stated the Fishermen Association representative.

In Marbella and Estepona, a total of 40 boats are trapped as a result of the accumulation of Rugulopterix okamurae. The central government has initiated the process for the urgent inclusion of this seaweed in the Spanish Catalogue of Invasive Exotic Species, with the aim of achieving this by the end of the year at the latest.

This official declaration will be crucial in taking corrective and compensatory measures, and has been demanded by scientists who analyse the presence of seaweed and by the sectors that have been affected by the seaweed’s accumulation.